Halftime at the Copacabana

 

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It’s halftime at the Copacabana, just under an hour after we have arrived here, on a subway train where judging by their football shirts everyone seemed to be Neymar. Back then, as we walked to the beach, cool, tree-shaded streets were turned humid with the body heat of thousands. Now we are seated, either on deckchairs or with knees pressed up against our chests, watching a mile-wide screen on which Brazil play Mexico.

Watching this match from up on the hill, Christ the Redeemer has the best view of all. Jesus, whose statue is a sort of compass by which you can judge wherever you are in the city, will later be illuminated in the dying sunlight in yellow and green, a privilege that God’s son is only afforded whenever Brazil play. Right now, it’s that time and temperature of afternoon when almost anyone can be convinced to smoke socially. Our cans of cold beer, helpfully branded Antarctica so that we won’t notice even when they turn warm, are planted up to their waists in the soft earth.

New friends – three French, one Andorran, one English – pose for a photo in their Brazil shirts; caramel-tanned, they all look like natives. Later, one of them, in as much a commentary on the host’s performance as the quantity of homemade caipirinha that he has consumed since midday, will fall asleep during the second half. Later, we will all crane our necks in vain anticipation towards Neymar, who will spend that second half entirely as he spent the first; pursued by two or three defenders at a time, like a bank robber whose security guards have been warned of his precise movements six months in advance. Later, we will half-heartedly curse and then loudly praise Ochoa, the Mexico goalkeeper who will deny an entire beach; grumbling good-naturedly, hundreds of men will amble down to the water and piss two hours’ worth of drink into the sea. The only ones not grumbling will be the small and faithful cohort of Mexicans, and a raucous band of Argentines; there are supposedly sixty thousand of them in Rio, and half of them will apparently spend the match two rows in front of us.

Soon, by 6pm, it will be midnight dark, and I will score my first ever goal on the Copacabana, during a game with fellow fans and locals; and I will jog away casually, pretending not to be filled with childish pride. Later still, the concert at the nearby FIFA fan site will continue into the evening. For now, though, there are fireworks and baile funk and barefoot dance-offs with ice-cream sellers, and I am wishing that this halftime’s final whistle never comes.

 

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